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How Do They Celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Yemen?

Eid al-Fitr is a Muslim holiday that is basically the same yet slightly different in every country. A man from Yemen, whom I met in 2015, gave me the details of how people celebrate this holiday in Yemen, specifically in his small village of about 200 people just outside the capital city of Sana’a.

At the time he told me this, the war in Yemen was just beginning. It was already impacting people’s lives, including the holiday of Eid al Fitr, but certainly not as deeply as it is today. Unfortunately, about two years after telling me all of this, my friend was tragically killed in Yemen. As far as I know, his family still lives there. Here is what my friend told me about how Eid al Fitr is celebrated in Yemen.

First, what is Eid al Fitr?

Eid al Fitr, called Eid for short, is the holiday that begins upon the conclusion of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month. Eid usually lasts anywhere from two to five days, its length varying from country to country.  A crescent moon marks the arrival of both Ramadan and Eid. Ramadan begins upon the arrival of this moon, called hilal in Arabic, in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Eid al-Fitr begins after the next crescent moon arrives.

Many people know a little about how Muslims observe Ramadan, by fasting from dawn till dusk, (which is especially difficult in the hot, hot Middle Eastern summers). Specifically they refraining from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations. They then break their fast at sunset with a meal called Iftar. Once Ramadan is over, the people celebrate.

ancient brown and beige buildings on a hill during Eid al Fitr in Yemen

Eid al Fitr in Yemen

Eid al Fitr in Yemen is a time of major celebration and festivity for the Muslim people, as it is in every country. The holiday lasts for about three days. The first day of this holiday begins as any morning, with the first prayer of the day, the Fajf prayer.

On the first day of Eid, though, there is a second special Eid prayer just after the sun rises, a prayer called Salat al-Eid.  In my friend’s village, all the grown men as well as the male children gather for this prayer, whether they decide to pray inside a mosque or outside in an open area. The women of the village stay home, along with female children over 10 years of age.

The prayer lasts about 10 minutes. Then there is a speech by the imam, or Muslim religious leader. Everyone shakes hands  in an effort to strengthen their relationships with each other. Then the men and children celebrate by having refreshments like chocolate and Pepsi. Why did the women and older girls stay home from all this? So everyone else can go visit them.  Now it’s time.

On Eid al-Fitr in Yemen, the men arrive at the homes of their female relatives, greeting the women with handshakes and gifting them small amounts of money, gestures meant to show goodwill and to strengthen their relationships.

After visiting for a while, the men go off on  their own, for several hours this time, to converse and chew khat. This is a plant common in Yemen, and chewing it is part of the country’s culture. It has a reputation in the outside world as a drug, but my Yemeni friend tells me khat actually does not alter your mind.

Each night of Eid al-Fitr in my friend’s village, the men stay together and conclude the evening with perhaps the most fun celebration of the day,  dancing their traditional dances.

Dancing in Yemen- men in white robes and dark blazers dance with curved knives

 

With the exception of the Salat al-Eid prayer in the morning, the people of my friend’s village celebrate the remaining days of Eid with the same socializing and bonding as the first day.

While this is the tradition of Eid al-Fitr in Yemen, what is its purpose? My friend tells me that for him and his village, it is about forgiveness. During Eid you forgive your enemy for everything, my friend tells us, so that you can be happy.

Now, that sounds like a good way for everyone to live their lives.

The War in Yemen

Many people aren’t aware that there is a war in Yemen. It is a war between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. In other words, what is commonly called a civil war is actually a proxy war that the wealthy nations of Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting in the poorest country in the Middle East.

The exact beginning of the war is up for debate, but the approximate beginning was somewhere between 2014-2016. The war has resulted in Yemen becoming the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Almost 400,000 people have died and another 5 million have been displaced. 17 million Yemenis are food insecure, and 18.6 million are in need of assistance. Yemen needs every bit of help it can get. If you want to help, you can donate through the International Committee of the Red Cross here or through any of the other organizations you may find which are accepting donations for Yemen.

(This updated post was originally published on July 5, 2016.)

Sabina Lohr is a freelance writer who shines a light on the cultures of the Middle East through non-fiction storytelling, interviews with local figures, and insightful articles. She has traveled extensively through the region for more than 15 years and has lived in Israel, Egypt and the U.A.E.

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